Recent Commonplace Entries


“Historical events can seldom be traced to a single cause, and where several causes operate it is unwise to offer comparative estimates of the responsibility of each.” (from Ralph Bennett’s Behind the Battle, p 190)

“Intelligence is of no value unless there is a force to take advantage of it.”  (from Ralph Bennett’s Behind the Battle, p 191)

“Precisely because deception must attach itself like a parasite to a body already sick, it cannot later claim to be the sole cause of the patient’s death.” (from Ralph Bennett’s Behind the Battle, p 262)

“From childhood Nietzsche was subject to excruciating headaches and eye pain. A school doctor predicted total blindness. Cures were humiliating and painful: He was left to lie in darkness for a week at a time, leeches attached to his ears to draw the blood down from his head. Later, on the battlefield of a Prussian war with France, he contracted diphtheria and dysentery. The treatment at the time — silver nitrate, opium and tannic acid enemas — destroyed his intestines. At any moment in his adult life, he suffered from uncontrollable vomiting, hemorrhoids, blinding eye pain and the constant taste of blood in his mouth.” (from NYT, November 1)

“Young focused on the trigeminal nerve, the nerve that provides sensation in the lip and the rest of the face. There are several pain syndromes linked to that nerve, and the one Young thought was most likely was a rare entity with the awkward acronym Sunct — Short-lasting Unilateral Neuralgiform headache attacks with Conjunctival injection and Tearing. These headaches are characterized by brief episodes of pain localized in one side of the face and associated with watering, bloodshot eyes.” (from NYT Magazine, November 4)

“We in Balliol should never take a narrow and provincial view of the universe. We should imitate the genial tolerance of the sun which rises over Wadham and sets over Worcester.” (Anthony Kenny, from Brief Encounters, quoted in TLS review, November 2)

“Mr. Barenboim has long been outspoken. When Israel passed a new law this year that enshrines the right of self-determination as ‘unique to the Jewish people’, he wrote that it made him ‘ashamed of being an Israeli’.”  (from NYT, November 6)’

J. Bonington Jagworth Lives

“In a drive on the back roads of Connecticut, the [Allard] J2X is exhilarating. The exhaust is perfectly tuned to produce a snarl that turns into musical banging and popping on the overrun.” (Jim Motavalli in NYT, November 9)

“In the last resort the best way to conceal a damning story is to confess under pressure to something less incriminating but nevertheless discreditable.” (from A History of the German Secret Services and British Counter-Measures (WO 279/499), p 66)

“The attitude of a person under interrogation is one fact among many which can be taken into account; it can never be conclusive in itself. There is enough variety in espionage to ensure that every pre-conceived idea will in some instance prove invalid. Spies may be clever or stupid, plausible or clumsy, experienced or hopelessly amateur. The fact that a man is manifestly ill-equipped to be a spy is, particularly in this war, no proof that he is not one.” (from A History of the German Secret Services and British Counter-Measures (WO 279/499), p 67)

“It is less difficult than might be supposed to extract a confession. Spies are not commonly men of character. They are far more likely (at least in this war) to be parasites than patriots. It is a profession particularly attractive to vain men who have failed elsewhere. Their damaged self-esteem is restored by the atmosphere of secrecy and importance which surrounds their doings irrespective of their own success or failure.” (from A History of the German Secret Services and British Counter-Measures (WO 279/499), p 69)

“If you are too bellicose, you provoke Dictators into doing something irrevocable. If you are too passive, you encourage them to think they can do anything.” (from Alexander Cadogan’s Diaries, p 177)

“But we know, via math and genetics, that your ancestors were also settled in Italy in the tenth century, regardless of whether you’re Tom Conti, Eddie Izzard, President Obama, Richard Dawkins, Taylor Swift, Adolf Hitler, Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth II, Madonna, Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, all four members of ABBA, my butcher, or Charles Darwin.” (from Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, p 173)

“There’s no such thing as a Jewish disease, because Jews are not a genetically distinct group of people.” (from Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, p 256)

“It’s a novel so it didn’t need to be fact-checked, though a novel needs to have verisimilitude.” (Sara Nelson of Harper Collins, on Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz, reported by Christine Kenneally in NYT, November 14)

“Man kann in Friedenszeiten die Regierung stürzen, wenn man unzufrieden ist. Aber wenn man es während eines Krieges tut, dann verrät man sein eigenes Volk.“ [“One can overturn the government in times of peace. But if one does such during a war, then one is a traitor to one’s own people.”]  (Admiral Canaris to Nikolaus Ritter, from the latter’s Deckname Dr. Rantzau, p 320)

The NYT Avoids the ‘S’ Word

“Venezuela, which was a key axis of that network, has become a regional pariah under President Nicolás Maduro, whose mismanagement of the economy has led to an acute shortage of food and medicine.” (from NYT, November 21)

“They [Jeremy Black’s themes] revolve around a sense of distinctiveness, rather than ethnicity, rooted in many things: a gradual entrenchment of individual liberty, partly expressed through parliamentary sovereignty; a system of Common Law very different – legally, politically and intellectually – from Continental Roman Law; a respect for property; a continuity of local government in parish, shire and town that was comfortable in its English (though not its British) identity; a liking, at least most of the time, for moderation; a language that promoted the nation’s culture and proved exportable; an insular warding off of outsiders, especially threats from Danes, French, Spanish, Dutch and Germans; an identification of Protestantism with patriotism; and an instinctive hostility to supranational movements and religions, such as Catholicism and Islam.” (Jamie Camplin on English Nationalism: A Short History by Jeremy Black, in History Today, November 2018)

“Ultimately, immigration is not actually the problem that inflamed voters: Much more foundational issues, such as austerity, are the real reason.” (Tanja Bueltmann, history professor at Northumbria University, quoted in NYT, November 23)

“Ms. Wallman, the chief statistician for the United States from 1992 to 2017, who helped develop the first governmentwide standard for data on race and ethnicity that came into use in the late 1970s, said she did not like having to categorize by race, but that the government had to for oversight.” (from NYT, November 23)

“The former Prime Minister Lord Balfour, himself an author and philosopher of distinction, observed the process with amusement: ‘At the moment I am immersed in Winston’s brilliant Autobiography, disguised as a history of the universe.’” (from David Dilks’s Churchill and Company, p 10)

“During discussion at the Cabinet of a tangled problem of domestic politics, Churchill asked Alexander for his opinion. ‘Well, Prime Minister, I’m a soldier and I don’t know much about politics; but I feel we should do what is decent, fair, right and honourable.’ A long silence ensued among the politicians. Then the Prime Minister spoke: ‘Never in my long experience have I heard so outrageous a doctrine propounded by a Minister of the Crown.’” (from David Dilks’s Churchill and Company, p 72, source: Harold Macmillan)

“On General Montgomery’s observing that the New Zealand Division did not seem to have been taught to salute, he received the cheerful reply [from Freyberg] ‘That’s all right, Monty. If you wave to them, they’ll wave back.’” (from David Dilks’s Churchill and Company, p 101)

“My upbringing taught me that a useful criterion for assessing a person’s basic competence was whether they knew ‘how many beans make five’. From Brooks we learn that depending on which accountant audits the books, the answer can lie anywhere between zero and sixty.” (Paul Collier, reviewing Richard Brooks’ Bean Counters in TLS, November 16)

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